SHANG YL CHEN

between us

An Idea of Time – The Measurement and Representation of a Second

In 1967, the specific frequency from the emission spectrum of caesium-133 was chosen to be used as the definition of the second by Le Système international d’unités (SI, The International System of Units).  With the help of the advancement of atomic clock, this definition clearly stated that a second is “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium-133 atom”. However, long before the SI, the duration of second had been first demonstrated in clocks dated back to the early second half of the 16th century.

As the technology and craftsmanship of clock-making and watch-making further developed, time becomes to be more tangible to men. The following drawings show the assembly of a typical mechanical watch. This small simple mechanism has revolutionized human’s relationship with the universe. Ever since then knowing time is no more the privilege of the Roman Catholic Church, but all normal citizens began to have the tools to measure time and sense time lucidly. This small duration of a second, as one of the fundamental units of measurement, helped human to understand the material world in a more accurate and scientific manner.

Alf of Clock Mechanisms (1950)

3D Model of Simple Mechanical Watch Movement

Mainspring and Mainwheel

Escapement

Atomic Clock Assembly (1955, Britain's National Physical Laboratory)

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An Idea of Energy – Perceived the Unseen

In physics, “energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems.” Energy cannot be “destroyed or created”. But it can be “transferred or transformed”.

However, in arts and architecture, energy can be created. The following photos of the works by London artist Kate MccGwire and Spanish engineer Eduardo Torroja have enchanted the viewers the haunting energy empowered in forms.

MccGwire’s feather sculptures and Torraja’s bus station are all “still” artifacts. Not any types of energies (like heat, sounds, etc.) are released from the forms. But they gave us a kind of visual impression that create reverberation in our mental perceptions. The unseen magical power seems to be incarnated into the fluid forms through the expression of feathers and concrete. The overall visual impulses are furthered enhanced by the directional arrangement of the feathers and the joint lines of the concrete shell. In these cases, we can say that energies are generated by the artists’ pure efforts of creations with struggles of maintaining their original concepts and aesthetic preferences. I think both MccGwire and Torroja’s works meet historian Simon Schama’s description on arts. They have “the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing. After an encounter with that force, we don’t look at a face, a colour, a sky, a body, in quite the same way again. We get fitted with new sight: in-sight. Visions of beauty or a rush of intense pleasure are part of that process, but so too may be shock, pain, desire, pity, even revulsion. That kind of art seems to have rewired our senses. We apprehend the world differently.”

An Idea of Space – An opportunity for internal emptiness to freely assert one’s identity and pursuit

To discuss an idea of space, I believe it is critical to understand its definition even though we use the term often. Since we are living in the 21st century in which our planet Earth is considerably small and communication is easy, I hereby list the definition of “space” and images of space (1st image by Google) searched by 15 languages below in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of what space is in different cultures under the perpetual update of human knowledge.

Space (English): A period of time; a limited extent in one, two, or three dimension; an extent set apart or available; the distance from other people or things in order to remain comfortable; one of the degrees between or above or below the lines of a musical staff; a boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction; physical space independent of what occupies it; the region beyond the earth’s atmosphere; a blank area separating words or lines; a set of mathematical elements and especially of abstractions of all the points on a line, in a plane or in physical space; linage; broadcast time available especially to advertisers accommodation on a public vehicle; the opportunity of assert or experience one’s identity or needs freely; an opportunity for privacy or time to oneself.

空間 (Chinese): Emptiness; void; sky; space; room

Χώρος /Khôra  (Greek): Room; space

अंतरिक्ष/Antarikṣa (Hindi): An interval, intervening time or space, gap; inner space; space; sky;

الفضاء (Arabic): Space; outer space; empty area; gap; sky

Raum (German): Ambient; area; cave chamber, cave room; cavity; chamber; compartment; district; range; region; room for training course; scope; space; volume; zone

l’espace (French) : Space; fact; moment

מרחב (Hebrew): Open space, wild, wildness, wilderness; space, expanse, scope, roominess, vastness, breadth, capaciousness; region; freedom; wide, broad; large; spacious, roomy; comprehensive

Spazio (Italian): room, space

空き容量 Aki yōryō (Japanese): Empty; sky; vacant; vacuum; void; contain; form; looks; amount; consider;estimate; measure; quantity; surmise; weight;

Nafasi (Swahili): Space; place; time; opportunity; chance; respite

공간 gong-gan  (Korean): Void space; vacancy; room; area; the air

Пространство (Russian): Area; field; range; room; space; spread; stretch; reach; extent; expanse; expansion; amplitude

Spacio (Spanish): Space, capacity; distance between objects; space, interval of time; lowness, delay (tardanza), procrastination; recreation, diversion; musical interval; in printing, space, type which separates words

Espaço (Portugese): The unlimited 3-dimensional expanse in which everything is located; (mathematics) any set of points that satisfy a set of postulates of some kind; space for movement; an empty area (usually bounded in some way between things); opportunity for; a blank character used to separate successive words in writing or printing; blank area; one of the areas between or below or above the lines of a musical staff.


From these different definitions and images about space, some of them gave me a better insight about how space is related to me: The opportunity of assert or experience one’s identity or needs freely; an opportunity for privacy or time to oneself; emptiness. This is not to say that I don’t care about the space “beyond the earth’s atmosphere”, nor I don’t pay attention to the “boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction”, but at this stage of life in the world that images and information are flashing around me I need to find this “space” or “opportunity” to re-assert my identity and life pursuit. This reminded me of René Descartes, who had constantly traveled during his youth to experience and learn as well as to search for his primary interest in life.  Even though I don’t have the luxury to travel recently, but I hope being back to school gives me this “space” as an empirical environment for exploring ideas in architecture. This “space” might be tangible and visible. It seems to be a physical atmosphere based on the external environment with the relevant people associated to it. However, if my mind has the emptiness to contain and has the time to think, this “space” can be also much less independent from the external environment.

Immanuel Kant has once written in his Inaugural Dissertation: “Space is not something objective and real, nor a substance, nor an accident, nor a relation; instead, it is subjective and ideal, and originates from the mind’s nature in accord with a stable law as a scheme, as it was, for coordinating everything sensed externally.” In other words, this “space” is created within one’s mind with the interaction with the external world.  Since I am constantly trying to find this “space” or “opportunity” to identify myself and lifetime pursuit, is it better for me to look back into my mind and find the void in order to put me staying on the track that I would like to continue? If yes, then what is this track and where is this track? This track is indeed coming from the external world and going to the external world. So when one tries to find this “space” to freely identify oneself and pursuit, this space seems to be private in the mind but still strongly connected to the outside world.

Inside of my mind I see a translucent cube within a fiber-weaved sphere. Inside of the cube there is myself looking for an opening. Connecting to the opening there is a bridge like a track toward the bright light in distance. I try to get into the opening, but the opening is moving faster than me.

September 11th – The Presence of the Absence

Photo of H. Yi

On September 11th, 2001, I woke up as usual and walked down the dormitory corridor.  Outside the window is the tranquil morning landscape of Ithaca. Then I stopped by the lounge and saw a couple classmates were sitting in front of the TV. Some of them used both their hands to cover their mouths. I turned my head and watched the scene of the collapsing towers on the flat panel screen.

Ten years later, I still remember two sentences that I said before I left the lounge to call home. ” That is crazy. Do they know people can get killed by doing that?” I guess I couldn’t speak a word logically at that moment. I hope this poem below can comfort my mind for this special date.

The presence of the absence forever sounds.

Ten years of emptiness resonate minds.

What to touch our dark souls have to be found?

Should our memories be remained and combined?

Hate and love both can  burn slowly into ashes.

While one has to be sunk and the other soar.

But for human being these two are crashed.

These mingled doublet need to be dividedly sawed.

From this vision lives remain and extend.

From that moment of crash another sprout emerges and sings.

And I would like to tell you my dear friends,

This sprout is not growing by root but by wings.

The holes of the absence should not be cold.

The hopes from the presence should be ever hold.